This essay, “The Psychological Aesthetics of INTJ,” won 1st prize in the CelebrityTypes essay contest. The views and type assessments expressed in this essay represent the opinions of its author and not the editorial point of view of the site. Readers should also remember that “type portraits” can never apply to all members of a given type (Psychological Types §895), and that aesthetic preferences are psychic material, not psychic functions. The essay’s author and the site owners are aware of these reservations.
By Lawrence Bevir
While the admins’ articles on the psychological aesthetics of the functions (Te, Ti, Ne, Ni) contain many creative and useful insights, and I fully encourage readers to check them out before reading this article, their approach nevertheless suffers from a flaw: People experience art with all their functions, and it is very difficult to parse an individual’s artistic taste and assign different aspects of it to discrete functions, because other functions will inevitably come into play.
For example, an INFJ will interpret the music of Phillip Glass not just with Ni, but with Fe, Ti, and Se as well. And because the Jungian functions are not empirical, the process of determining which functions are responsible for which facets of an individual’s artistic experience is somewhat arbitrary. Does the INFJ enjoy Glass’s tranquil, repetitive, and minimalist music because it helps him focus his Ni or because his Fe prefers a gentle and harmonious external environment? Or is it because his Ti appreciates its detached nature? Or all of the above? Figuring this out is a hard task. It is like trying to separate four different liquids that have been mixed together.
In my assessment, I think the admins’ article on the Psychological Aesthetics of Ni applies more to the INFJ than the INTJ aesthetic. The aesthetic described in that article is a Platonic Aesthetic that is restrained, delicate, and soothing. It includes elements of Fe which would not appear in the Psychological Aesthetics of INTJs.
A more holistic approach to Psychological Aesthetics, examining the artistic tastes of an integrated type, may therefore provide a useful addendum to their work, and as an INTJ I of course feel qualified to provide it.
A good way to think about the aesthetics of the INTJ is as a blend of the psychological aesthetics of Ni and Te as described in their respective articles, with a dollop of Fi thrown in. Because Ni is the INTJ’s preferred perception function, the way in which the INTJ perceives art is similar to that of the INFJ: The end goal of the aesthetic is not the work of art itself but the ideas and abstractions that the work of art prompts in his mind.
So what is beguiling in music to an INTJ is not likely to be specifics of the orchestration, the tone, the pitch or even particular melodies. Instead, he will walk away thinking about the ideas the music triggered in him, and his attachment to the piece of music will be intertwined with his attachment to those ideas.
For example, when Friedrich Nietzsche listened to the music of Richard Wagner, he did not appreciate it for its advances in chromaticism or tonal centers. He appreciated it because – in its grandeur and exuberance, its unfiltered romanticism and singular intensity, and in its radical break with musical orthodoxy – it reflected his own ideal of the creative, life-affirming individual who, through struggle and the assertion of the will, can escape the limitations of convention. In music, he heard his own exaltation.
The downside of this cerebral approach that I have just described is that it prevents the INTJ from experiencing the work of art on its own terms, independently of the intellectual superimpositions of Ni that are pulled down over the object like an ill-fitting garment. So after Wagner turned his back on what Nietzsche wanted him to be by embracing German nationalism, Nietzsche could no longer enjoy his music. Its technical merits, its pure aesthetic beauty were still the same as they had always been, but now that the intellectual connotations of what Wagner’s music meant had changed, these objective aesthetic qualities no longer meant anything to Nietzsche, for now they no longer expressed Nietzsche’s own ideas to him. It no longer reassured him that the things he expected of the world were yet to come.
Nietzsche was unable to separate artist from art, and art from philosophy, so when he heard Wagner’s music after the date of their break, all it did was remind him of Wagner’s perceived betrayal of his own philosophy. The same bombastic sound that Nietzsche had previously hailed as a glorious, life-affirming iconoclasm became a tasteless pastiche of what it once meant to him; a cruel mockery of his glorious ideal. And so, when Nietzsche broke his friendship with Wagner, he also disowned his friendship with Wagner’s music, claiming that it lacked “philosophical affect” and represented nihilism.
So what can we learn about INTJ aesthetics from the case of Nietzsche? That like INFJs, INTJs interpret works of art through subjective associations and ideas. But that, having Fi instead of Fe, the INTJ is more likely to appreciate romanticism and the romantic notion of the gifted lone individual and to identify more personally with his art. And finally, having Te instead of Ti, the INTJ is more likely to pass positive judgment on works of art that offer assertive, grandiose abstractions.
Taken as a whole, these are the main themes of the INTJ aesthetic:
- A theme of the proud and independent loner, rising above social and physical constraints
- A tendency to romanticize not just ideas, but also the fight for those ideas
- A tension between failure and triumph not unlike the Te aesthetic
Let’s go over them in turn.
1. A theme of the proud and independent loner, rising above social and physical constraints
Ni, as an introverted perception function, does not examine the outer world directly, but rather looks for truth in the Ni-user’s own unconscious, in his psyche, with only minimal input from the external world. And as an intuitive function, it is concerned with discerning patterns and concepts applicable in general, rather than in specific circumstances. Abraham Lincoln described Thomas Jefferson’s thought in this manner, praising it as “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times”.
Unlike Ne, which is frequently extremely extensive in its perceptions, Ni prefers to focus on a few core, highly valued insights, rather than generating a flurry of different ideas. Thus, it can be said that the Ni type strives for independent inspiration, with no external barriers or complications standing between him and his vision.
Plato’s allegory of the cave, in which the Philosopher escapes the shadowy simulacrum that others mistake for reality in order to be the one to experience reality directly and personally, provides a classic example of the narrative of independent inspiration. But it is in the theology of Martin Luther that it finds its most influential proponent. Luther argued that an individual could experience divine inspiration independently and through his own knowledge of God and the Bible, with no need for an intermediate social institution or authorized clergyman acting on behalf of an organized church. Indeed, this narrative has a particularly strong pull on INTJs since, unlike INFJs, they have no auxiliary Fe to push them to work harmoniously with others to achieve their goals. Instead, Te-Fi seeks independence and power.
So how does the narrative of the proud and independent loner manifest in the aesthetics of the INTJ? Their literature is one obvious avenue. INTJ writers such as Nietzsche and Ayn Rand often depict Lutheran heroes (even though they explicitly reject Christianity). Their heroes experience unique and superior insights that they access on their own terms, and which they are then compelled to assert against pre-existing social arrangements and the fierce opposition of the unenlightened, even to the point of martyrdom. In painting, this same narrative is best evoked by Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, an image that has often found its way onto the cover of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
In the image, the wanderer’s gaze into the murky fog below mirrors the Ni type’s examination of his unconscious, and the self-reflective introspection characteristic of Introverted Intuition. His lofty perch atop the rocky precipice, from which he can gaze magisterially on everything beneath him, indicates the dominance yearned for by Te; his confident posture implies that he is indeed master of all he surveys. Yet he stands alone, implying paradoxically that he is also alienated from society, whether by choice or not. His kingdom is a private, personal one, and any insight he gains from it will be similarly detached. In this sense, he is like John Adams: “At once ambitious, yet alienated”, and thus “decidedly contrary.” The contradiction here is between Ni, which seeks seclusion, and Te, which seeks mastery.
2. A tendency to romanticize not just ideas, but also the fight for those ideas
As I have already said, the INTJ has Fi instead of Fe, which gives him a more personal, emotional stake in the ideas that he champions, and which can cause him to fuse his psyche with those ideas and make them the core of his identity. We see this with Luther, who once claimed that “whoever teaches differently from what I have taught … condemns me thereby,” and with Vladimir Lenin, who, in the words of Bertrand Russell, made his theory his life-blood.
Aesthetically, this synthesis manifests as a romantic attitude towards ideas. The Romantic movement in art was primarily lead by Fi users, as Fi lends itself more easily to great intensity of feeling and the artistic expression of deeply held values. In his art, therefore, the INTJ appreciates works which prompt not just mental reflection, but a passionate, willful mental reflection, which can carry a self-righteous edge.
It was as a concession to her Fi passions that Ayn Rand advocated a “romantic realism” in which reality is depicted as it “ought to be,” in accordance with great values and great philosophy. In Rand’s fiction, this aesthetic is taken to an extreme, when the characters of Howard Roark and John Galt, who are the representatives of Rand’s ideas and values in the books, are idealized physically as well.
Rand presents a world in which romanticized ideas are sovereign over all other aspects of human life, and characters live and die by their understanding and acceptance of them. It is not nature that is the object of the INTJ’s romanticism, nor God, nor Country, nor even love, but the beautiful ideas and the people with the capacity to grasp them and the tenacity to fight for them.
3. A tension between failure and triumph not unlike the Te aesthetic
So, after an INTJ has secluded himself to pursue an idea, and passionately attached himself morally and emotionally to that idea, what comes next? At this point the INTJ must re-engage with the world and use Te to actively assert it, like Luther nailing his Theses to the church door, Zarathustra coming down from the mountain, or Lenin returning from Switzerland to lead the October Revolution.
As a result, the INTJ aesthetic is likely to feature the same themes of struggle and self-assertion, and that same conflict between anxiety and triumph that is also found in the Te aesthetic, but with the crucial difference that with INTJs it is ideas that are being asserted, rather than (as is sometimes the case with ETJs) simply wanting efficiency for the sake of efficiency or winning for the sake of winning.
As such, it is not actually Wagner who is the best representative of the INTJ aesthetic in music: Wagner’s works are assertive, yes, but they do not assert anything in particular. Siegfried is not motivated to assert his values or ideas, he is motivated simply to assert, until he encounters something that makes him feel fear. Rather, the INTJ aesthetic in music can be seen most clearly in Beethoven.
Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, for example, is based on a poem which envisioned an end to Monarchy and a Kantian ideal of humanity as an end in itself. In Beethoven’s setting, various melodies rise intermittently, only to be crushed by mournful cellos and basses, mirroring the struggle to assert the idea the poem represents. When the Main Theme is introduced, it begins quietly, almost unconsciously, and gradually gains in intensity until the cellos and basses are forced into accompaniment. The Theme is eventually given voice in the triumphal “choral” variations. The melody itself is simple, yet powerful, like the idea behind it.
The Psychological Aesthetics of INTJ © Lawrence Bevir and CelebrityTypes 2014.
Drawing of a medal commissioned for this publication from artist Georgios Magkakis.